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What Happens When Self-Care Isn’t Enough

For a long time, I thought that regular self-care practices were the key to avoiding burnout. That was until last year when I found myself spread too thin and severely burned out.

Meditating, exercising, journaling…those things are supposed to keep you stress-free, right? You might think they’re the answer to all of your problems like I did.

What happens when practicing self-care fails you? Here’s how I learned some important lessons in self-care that changed my perspective forever.

Well, what happens if self-care fails you? Last year, I learned something that made me realize my definition of self-care was all wrong.

Even though I was practicing self-care on a regular basis, I burned myself to the ground because I wasn’t being honest with myself. What I thought was self-care wasn’t working for me, so here’s how I discovered what I needed to do.

How I Burned Out

For the past two years, I’ve been running The Blissful Mind, working part-time as an independent contractor, and coaching a high school dance team. I thought I was able to balance it all, but it eventually became too much. 

To put my schedule into context, I was working about 25 hours a week at my contract job. I was also at dance practices 2-3 days a week for about 3 hours each. There were occasional Saturday practices and long evenings for sporting event performances. The big kicker was that I had an hour and a half commute each way. Any leftover moment was dedicated to my blog and business.

Trying to juggle three separate jobs was exhausting. I didn’t have time in my schedule for anything but work, and my brain rarely had a chance to relax.

When you’re burned out, you start to feel disconnected from who you are.

Around the summer of 2019, I began to feel like I wasn’t myself anymore, as if I didn’t know who I was outside of my work responsibilities.

I didn’t realize how much burnout takes away from your connection to yourself. It makes you feel like you’re not capable of success. It makes you question everything that you’re doing. You feel guilty that you’re not able to handle it when there are others dealing with much worse. It messes with you mentally, physically, and emotionally.

As someone who has created an entire brand around a “blissful mind”, I didn’t feel like I had one. I stopped sharing as much content because I didn’t feel like I was upholding my values.

I would feel a sense of guilt because there are plenty of people out there who are juggling more than I was. There were other dance coaches who were mothers and had full-time jobs. If they could do it, why was I having such a hard time making it all work? I realize now that they were struggling as well.

When Self-Care Isn’t Enough

I’ve always known that self-care is more than bubble baths (we should all know that by now), but I didn’t realize that my definition of self-care was limited until it stopped working for me.

Even though I made time for exercise, baths, journaling, and all of the self-care things, I still felt burned out. I thought spending time on a daily basis to take care of myself was the key to keeping me from burning out, but it clearly wasn’t. That’s not to say that these things didn’t help me, but there was more to the situation than those things could have helped with.

Despite taking care of myself, I needed to take something off of my plate.

It wasn’t until I stopped coaching at the end of 2019 that I finally started to feel like myself again. It was the one thing that I needed to let go of, but I hadn’t felt like it was an option until it happened due to circumstances out of my control. As much as I hated to leave the team behind, it was something that needed to happen.

Taking something off of my plate was the self-care that I was missing. Going into 2020, I already feel lighter. I know that I have less to worry about, and I finally feel like myself again.

Related Post: 7 signs you’re burned out (and what to do about it)

How I Redefined Self-Care

Now that I’m no longer in a situation where I can barely keep track of everything, I’ve learned what self-care truly means (at least to me).

True self-care is deciding if you are going to accept whatever is causing you discomfort or if you are going to change it. I tried to accept it for a long time to convince myself that things were okay, but there was no way I could keep up life in a hustle state like that. In my case, I had to let go of something to truly feel like myself again.

I also think that it’s so important to have a support system who can take some of the weight off of your shoulders.

Self-care ironically involves more than yourself.

I read an article recently about community self-care and how it might be even more important than personal self-care. Community self-care is about having people in your life who are there for you when you need it most.

Looking back at it now, there’s no way that I could have done all of the things I was doing without getting burned out. You cannot do it all, especially not alone. You need a support system in life if you are going to make it through anything. 

Prioritize your support system and get comfortable asking for help. I failed at these two things in 2019, but now I know that you can’t do it all alone. I know that I need to protect my time and not take on so much for the sake of my own mental health.

My main point here is that self-care is deeper than a lot of us even realize. It’s more than daily wellness habits (even though those are important).

True self-care involves sacrifice, discomfort, abandonment, honesty, community, and commitment to making choices in your best interest.

I feel it’s my duty to include other reasons why traditional self-care doesn’t work. These stem from hierarchies, politics, racism, societal oppression, and much more. So many of us are suffering due to circumstances bigger than ourselves, which means we have to be allies for each other. Here are some articles worth reading:

  • Black Mothers are drowning and self care is not the answer

Is there anything you need to let go of?

From now on, I’m putting my energy into the things that give you life, not things that make me question every decision I make. If it doesn’t fit in with my life vision, it’s not worth giving my energy to.

If you’re burned out and you’ve tried the self-care methods, you need to a) stop fighting whatever’s burning you out or b) let it go for your own sanity. I hope this post has helped you to redefine self-care or given you some encouragement if you’re in a similar position that I was in.

About the Author
Picture of Catherine Beard
Hi, I'm Catherine! As the creator of The Blissful Mind, I love exploring ways to make life more fulfilling, especially when it comes to our daily routines, habits, and well-being.

20 Responses

  1. This really made me think about how I define self-care and what it means to me.. I should’ve known this before, as I got a bore-out and no amount of bubble baths would help for that either.. Thank you for the inspiration!

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this part of your story! Having “your” people is such a huge part of the bigger self-care picture (and one of my biggest struggles! I hate asking for help!) The best ways that I have come to terms with being willing to ask for help are:
    1) Practicing the belief that I am WORTHY of having someone else help me (AKA, no, it doesn’t “bother” them!)
    2) Thinking about how I would react if any of “my” people asked for help from me. (Because I am always DELIGHTED to help others! So why should I steal that joy from them??)
    Love this post and the nice reminder it brings!!

  3. I, too, had to step away from most of my volunteer work last summer. I’ve had health problems for several years and a new diagnosis of hypothyroidism and medication caused me to fall into a deep depression. I am stay at home wife and mother to a husband who works 90 hour weeks and a busy 8 year old. My reason for volunteering full-time was to justify my existence and lack of career. Life is much quieter and calmer and I am content and health problems are behind me. It is my plan to step away from the rest of my volunteer work to start a new business and finish the Creative Writing degree I should have gotten years ago. The world will not end, someone else will come in my place, the program will cease, but it’s not my job to save it.

  4. Wow, I can totally relate. I had a huge health issue last year and had to rely on other people for the first time. It was hard because I’m used to doing it all, which isn’t easy with 3 kids and working part time. But I discovered that self care is not selfish. Sometimes it means saying no to someone else but saying yes to yourself. Sometimes it means receiving help from others when you really need it. The love and support I received from friends and family helped me recover and I wish the best for you as well.

  5. Thank you for this information. It was like a light bulb turned on for me when I read this article. Constantly ,we get overwhelmed trying to make sure we are getting some of our self care rituals to fit into our daily regiments and it sometimes causes stress if we don’t succeed. Purging and prioritizing are new habits I am trying to implement into my lifestyle and it’s hard. But knowing that it’s ok to let go of the things that do not give me life or have a positive effect is reassuring . Thank you Catherine ?

  6. Hello Catherine, You are such a thoughtful person. I have really enjoyed reading your articles and blog.
    I appreciate your insight as it allows me to feel normal, average and accepting of myself and day to day thoughts. Please keep up the great work and allowing us to share in your growth.

  7. This resonated so much with what I think self care is all about. I tend to juggle multiple interests and say “yes” a lot. Sometimes you neet to let go in order to free up mind (and week) space.
    Congratulations on your decision and I hope life gets easier soon :)

  8. “True self-care is deciding if you are going to accept whatever is causing you discomfort or if you are going to change it” – This. All of it. Just YAASS!!!
    I recently made the decision to quit my job because it was causing so much stress and negativity in my life. It was a major leap of faith, especially since I have yet to find a new job. But because I let go of that job, I feel more open to receiving what is good for me. Thank you so much for sharing this!

  9. I write about self-care for Teachers and what you say here is interesting. I agree to a point about self-care can fail you, if you’re burned out, but self-care needs to be happening in the first place. I find many teachers are so tired and overwhelmed that they are neglecting themselves, so need encouragement that self-care isn’t selfish.

    I do like your point about taking things off your plate, so to speak. Often we take on too much in our lives and without this step, it becomes very difficult to recover from burnout. This is what I needed to do to heal from my own burnout.

    I enjoyed your post. Thanks so much.

    1. Thank you, Michelle! I was very much practicing self-care on a regular basis and prioritizing time for myself, but it couldn’t fix the pressing issue of needing to let go of something.

  10. Fantastic post, thank you. I absolutely agree with you and found comfort reading this honest post. I need to share this with others. Thank you. =)

  11. Thank you so much for this article. I had the exact issue. Traditional self-care completely FAILED me!! I needed to ACT and deal with what was going on in my life more reflectively and more solution focused than I was. Trying to escape my day and work was not the answer for me. I thought I was also FAILING at self-care. Nope, just doing it wrong.

  12. This is such an important thing to remind myself of. In June/July I felt super bad mentally, even though I did a bit of self care every day. But sometimes you need to take from the stress and not give more in self care. Loved this post!

  13. I think this post was specifically made for me. I liked the way you redefined self-care. Most people including me are under the miscomprehension of self-care being only bubble baths or spa days. Self-care is much more than that. If I were to define it after this post, I would say that self-care isn’t much about the physical activities we do for ourselves, but the decisions we take to ensure our wellness and health of ourselves.

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